It took me five years to finish my first book. I had never written anything besides a blog post before that, so I was learning as I went along. I also had a big obstacle in my way that I greatly underestimated.
The manuscript proceeded in fits and starts. I wrote the first two-thirds of the first draft in one year. Most of the last third in the second year. I had an ending but for some reason I couldn’t quite get there. I think it’s because I had to write about my mom’s death, and after all the other hits we took in that time period it was the one that really knocked me down. It was hard to put all that pain on the page.
If I left in all the stuff I cut out while writing, it would have been more like 100,000 words.
Then I spent a year editing, and getting feed back from beta readers, and editing some more. I pitched it at the Willamette Writers Conference in August, 2012, and at the Faith And Culture Writers Conference, in March 2013. And by April I had a 84,000 word final draft.
At least I thought it was a final draft.
I queried over fifty agents that summer, and everyone passed.
I took the Fall off from querying. Anna was dealing with a difficult school transition and I was struggling even more with the aforementioned obstacle. In the Spring, I went back to the manuscript and saw what the problem was. All I needed was to give it six months in the proverbial drawer and I could look at it with new eyes.
This wasn’t the final draft.
Over the course of a very busy month, I cut another 10,000 words and tightened up the manuscript.
Now I had a 74,000 word final draft. I’d taken it as far as I could. I pitched it at the 2014 Faith and Culture Writers Conference and queried another forty agents, plus ten small presses that accepted un-agented submissions.
I finally got a nibble. An editor asked for my complete manuscript. I won’t know for a couple of months, but I’m hoping that this story I needed to tell is finally going to find a publisher and an audience.
Now on to my second book.
It’s very different. Fiction instead of non-fiction, and a book for children instead of adults. I’d already written a book about Anna, now I was writing a book for Anna.
I finished the first draft in one week.
A caveat. This is a chapter book—the first in a series—and my target was just shy of 10,000 words. But when an author can put down almost 10,000 words in one week, that author must be on to something.
Unlike my first book, which I planned out in advance, I wrote this one having no idea where the story would go—beyond the hint of the title—and I let the words and the ideas lead me.
I struggled with the first book because I needed to tell Anna’s story. I got it done, and I’m glad I did, but looking back I didn’t really enjoy writing it. I didn’t struggle at all with my new book, and I had a blast writing it.
And in the process, I discovered something about myself as a writer. Actually I discovered a few things …
I am not necessarily a “rolling reviser.” I can write a first draft with out worrying about what works or doesn’t work, and then go back and fix it later.
I can write by the seat of my pants and I enjoy it. It’s fun as a reader to be surprised by a story. It’s fun as a writer too.
With my big obstacle diminished—I can’t say gone, it will never be completely gone—I can get a lot more work done and I enjoy what I’m doing much more.
And my biggest discovery? I may have to start introducing myself as a fiction writer. There’s a chance I’ve spent the last five years trying to be something I’m not. I love narrative non-fiction, and I learned to love memoir, but maybe I’m not meant to write in those genres. Maybe I had only one memoir in me. Maybe I’m not meant to be a freelance magazine writer. Maybe the reason for my lack of success so far—besides the ever-present obstacle—is that I’m doing the wrong thing.
I love what I’m doing now. And isn’t that what matters?